S. Korean President Urges Taliban to Release Christian Hostages

South Korea's president called for the release of 18 Christian hostages on Saturday as their Taliban kidnappers vowed to kill them within 24 hours if the country fails to withdraw from Afghanistan.

In a brief televised statement, Roh Moo-hyun urged the Taliban to "send our people home quickly and safely," adding that taking civilians hostage can never be justified.

The abducted Christians were part of an evangelical and aid mission to one of the most insurgency-hit regions in Afghanistan when they were seized on Thursday, reported Agence France-Presse. According to The Associated Press, the group was on a bus traveling from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar when they were forcefully taken in Ghazni province.

"We are investigating, who are they, what are they doing in Afghanistan," Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, who claimed to be a Taliban spokesman, told AP Friday by satellite telephone. "After our investigation, the Taliban higher authorities will make a decision about their fate. Right now they are safe and sound."

Although the Taliban said they only captured 18 people, Ghazni province police chief Ali Shah Ahmadzai told AP that the South Korean bus driver, released late Thursday, said there were 18 women and five men on the bus. South Korea's foreign minister has also said that 23 of their nationals have been kidnapped in a press conference.

The South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that most of the hostages were members of the Saemmul Community Church in Bundang, just south of Seoul. Acording to AP, an official has confirmed that 20 of its members were in Afghanistan for volunteer work.

Though the South Korean government has called for the release of the hostages, it has been equally steadfast in saying that they will not withdraw their forces immediately as the kidnappers wanted them to do.

The government said that the schedule for the withdrawal of the 200 troop station there would still go ahead at the end of the year, as planned.

Christian Post correspondent Ethan Cole in Washington contributed to this article.